Many people watch numerous hours of television everyday. It is such a prevalent aspect of contemporary culture it is difficult to imagine life without it. There are those who believe TV is responsible for the dumbing down of society; that children watch too much television; and that the couch potato syndrome has contributed to the epidemic of childhood obesity.
The globally popular TV show The Simpsons provides us with an interesting perspective on television. As a result, he devises a scheme to detonate a nuclear bomb unless all television is abolished in Springfield. I think the survivors would envy the dead. It is even more difficult to imagine a world without popular culture.
Popular culture is usually distinguished from folk and high culture. In some ways, folk culture is similar to pop culture because of the mass participation involved.
Folk culture, however, represents the traditional way of doing things. Consequently, it is not as amendable to change and is much more static than popular culture. Folk culture represents a simpler lifestyle, that is generally conservative, largely self-sufficient, and often characteristic of rural life. Radical innovation is generally discouraged. Group members are expected to conform to traditional modes of behavior adopted by the community.
Folk culture is local in orientation, and non-commercial. In short, folk culture promises stability, whereas popular culture is generally looking for something new or fresh.
Because of this, popular culture often represents an intrusion and a challenge to folk culture. Conversely, folk culture rarely intrudes upon popular culture. There are times when certain elements of folk culture eg Turkish rugs, Mexican blankets and Irish fairy tales find their way into the world of pop culture. Generally, when items of folk culture are appropriated and marketed by the popular culture, the folk items gradually lose their original form.
A key characteristic of popular culture is its accessibility to the masses. It is, after all, the culture of the people. High culture, on the other hand, is not mass produced, nor meant for mass consumption. It belongs to the social elite; the fine arts, opera, theatre, and high intellectualism are associated with the upper socioeconomic classes.
Items of high culture often require extensive experience, training, or reflection to be appreciated. Such items seldom cross over to the pop culture domain. Consequently, popular culture is generally looked down upon as being superficial when compared to the sophistication of high culture.
This does not mean that social elites do not participate in popular culture or that members of the masses do not participate in high culture. Through most of human history, the masses were influenced by dogmatic forms of rule and traditions dictated by local folk culture. With the beginning of the Industrial era late eighteenth century , the rural masses began to migrate to cities, leading to the urbanization of most Western societies.
Urbanization is a key ingredient in the formation of popular culture. People who once lived in homogeneous small villages or farms found themselves in crowded cities marked by great cultural diversity. Thus, many scholars trace the beginning of the popular culture phenomenon to the rise of the middle class brought on by the Industrial Revolution. Industrialization also brought with it mass production; developments in transportation, such as the steam locomotive and the steamship; advancements in building technology; increased literacy; improvements in education and public health; and the emergence of efficient forms of commercial printing, representing the first step in the formation of a mass media eg the penny press, magazines, and pamphlets.
All of these factors contributed to the blossoming of popular culture. By the start of the twentieth century, the print industry mass-produced illustrated newspapers and periodicals, as well as serialized novels and detective stories. Newspapers served as the best source of information for a public with a growing interest in social and economic affairs.
The ideas expressed in print provided a starting point for popular discourse on all sorts of topics. Fueled by further technological growth, popular culture was greatly impacted by the emerging forms of mass media throughout the twentieth century.
Films, broadcast radio and television all had a profound influence on culture. The wide spectrum of human behaviour patterns of the common masses, which are projected through mass media, forms the popular culture.
Globalization is the post-modern economic process in which the distinction between the so-called low and high cultures is blurred with the rise of local culture at national and international levels and the diminishing effect of hegemonic culture of the elite. Rising popularity of the culture of the masses has thwarted efforts to eliminate or replace local culture. Under the influence of capitalist economy, the less developed countries have, instead, gained advantage of enriching their popular cultures by popularizing them at international levels and also commercializing them in the global market thus bringing the artisans and artists out of the modicum of living they had been destined to for centuries.
Yogendra Singh, in his book Culture Change in India, has observed that the growth of popular culture coincides with deeper social transformation in society. The indicators of this change are: Ever since the onset of globalization, there has been a fear psychosis in the minds of people, particularly of the developing countries, that cultural hegemony of the West and consequent eclipse of the local cultures is inevitable. But neither it happened over the last twenty years of the emergence of the process of globalization nor is there any threat of this kind as cultures do not get extinguished but only undergo change and manage to co-exist.
People are found accommodating well with the contrasting cultures. It is found that people are observing family norms and values and also simultaneously enjoying the McDonalds and Barista cultures. People in villages have enjoyed traditional cultural autonomy and continue to do so despite their being sufficiently urbanized and modernized.
Thus, cultural hegemony and eclipse of local culture is only a myth. The culture would instead be enriched by interaction among different cultures of the world. The process of globalization thus is not disintegrative but only integrative.
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